Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Faces of Repelón: The Primary Teacher

I first met Sindy Ruiz was over a year ago. I remember sitting at the school that I am currently serving at and being approached by a timid, soft-spoken Colombian. She explained that she was taking English classes in Barranquilla and would like some extra help on the weekends to further strengthen her skills. Being new in town and looking to make connections and friends, I agreed to help her out. As we were working together, I mentioned that I had started a community class and invited her to join to just reinforce the English skills that she already had while possibly picking up a few new things as well. She eagerly agreed and has been a staple of my classes ever since.

Sindy was born in Repelón in 1984 and grew up with five half-sisters. Her father worked as a jeweler, specializing in the repairing of watches, while her mother stayed at home and helped take care of the house. Growing up in such a large family provided Sindy with numerous opportunities to create long lasting memories from her childhood. Some of her favorite childhood recollections center around a common occurence here in the pueblo: power outages. Every time that the power would go out, she and her cousins would get together on someone's front patio and tell jokes and other stories to each other.

When there was power, and her and her friends weren't melting under the relentless coastal heat, they would played various games in the street in front of her house, including "La yuca", "Auga de limón", and "Al congelao". In addition to these popular childhood games, Sindy was also a big fan of slugging homers and catching pop flies with her family. While in school, she was able to make lots of friendships and fondly remembers visiting the library in town to complete homework and do other activities. Interestingly enough, she did not have a great experience with her primary teacher, who she describes as being "rough" and "mean" to the kids.

This was actually one of the experiences that drove her to her current career: teaching primary students in a small town just outside of Repelón. Sindy started teaching following her completion of a teacher training program and has held that position for the past six years. It is a job that brings her great joy and happiness. While she is afforded lots of liberties in her job, it breaks her heart to see many parents not taking an active interest in the education of their children. To her, this is probably the hardest aspect of working in a small pueblo. She is very fond of her students and wouldn't want to do anything else. Despite the travel time and difficult teaching environment that she is subjected to, watching her student's faces light up when they figure out a new concept is more than worth it to her. 

According to Sindy, pueblo life has many advantages to that of the city. It is calmer, quieter, safer, and void of noisy traffic. However, the lack of a quality sewage system and paved roads causes issues, especially when it rains and everything is turned to a giant mud field. Some day (hopefully in the near future), she would love to be able to visit Paris. The images that she has seen and the things that she has heard regarding this magnificent city are nothing short of amazing and she would love to experience them for herself. In addition to Paris, a trip to the United States, a country that she sees as one with unlimited work opportunities, is also near the top of her list.

That chance meeting over a year ago has turned into a lasting friendship that has come to include tutor sessions, home cooked meals, and other experiences that I will not soon forget. Sindy's contributing spirit and positive attitude has not only enriched my community classes, but also my time here in Repelón as well.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Faces of Repelón: The High School Graduate

A willingness to try new things. Upbeat. Positivity. All of these adjectives and more apply to Nayomis Carrillo Ruiz. She brings a curious mind and the ability to step outside of her comfort zone to not only English class, but life in general. Whether she's participating in the class warm-up or willing her team to victory in a heated review game, I know that I can always count on her when I need a volunteer to help keep class moving along.

Born in Sabanalarga (a town about 45 minutes to an hour north of Repelón), Nayomis comes from a close-knit family. Her parents, Alvaro and Solfanis, are dedicated to their family business as a way to provide for their family. Her older sister, Catalina, is currently working towards attaining her social work license at a university in Barranquilla. Danna, her younger sister, is still attending school here in Repelón and is in the ninth grade.

One of the many talents that Nayomis possess is that of a magnificent artist. Anytime that an artistic assignment is given to the students, I know that I am going to receive a mini-masterpiece from her talented hands. Actually, completing her first successful drawing is one of the things that she remembers most fondly about her childhood. Her abilities to translate her feeling and emotions onto paper is something that I'm definitely jealous of!

Outside of drawing, Nayomis also loves to ride her bike around town. Not only does this provide her with a healthy, safe form of entertainment, it also is relaxing and allows to clear her mind. When she was in school (Nayomis just graduated last December), she was able to create strong, long-lasting friendships that she hopes will continue into the future. Despite these pleasant memories, the absence of teachers on regular occasions was a bit of a hinderance as it caused classes to be canceled and mayhem to ensue.

Now that she has finally graduated, Nayomis is looking forward to her future. She plans on continuing her English studies at a university in either Sabanalarga or Barranquilla either this fall or next year. In the meantime, she is devoting her time to helping her mother maintaining the household for the rest of her family. A part of me wants her to wait until next January to start her university career, as that means that she will be able to finish out her current course with me. However, I will obviously fully support whatever decision she makes to better her future outlook.

When reflecting on the city of Repelón, Nayomis is proud of the fact that the local people are hard workers and are constantly striving to find ways to better their lives. This type of work ethic takes time to instill in people, let alone a whole community, so she sees this as a work in progress that also brings along a lot of insecurities that over time will hopefully work themselves out. Life in a pueblo also affords her the opportunity to be the person that she wants to be without a lot of trouble of strife from those around her. However, she also realizes that there are people that have the mentaility that they will always remain poor because they don't think they have the ability to overcome their difficulties. This is something that she aims to try and change in the future.

Down the road, Nayomis would love to be able to travel to the United States if the opportunity ever presented itself to her. The ability to use the things that she has learned regarding English and the chance to further improve her understanding of the language is one that she hopes she is able to take advantage of at some point. She sees the United States as a very powerful, developed country that is helping to better the world one day at a time.

Whether it is through her artistic drawings, bubbly personality, or sheer determination to succeed in everything that she tries, Nayomis has been one of the cornerstones of my classes here in Repelón. Despite her young age, I am fully confident that her future will be full of amazing opportunities and possibilities to both improve herself and the community of Repelón as a whole.